A 'Perfect Storm of Vocalism' by The 'Greatest Verdi Voices of Our Age'

November 22, 2018

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“Jamie Barton as Azucena achieved the finest and most convincing blend of great Verdi singing and compelling acting. For once the final act was not an absurd anticlimax and the mezzo-soprano was riveting here – Barton’s high notes soared like a bel canto soprano and her growling chest voice had a disturbing, almost feral quality. She charted the imprisoned Azucena’s psychological disintegration with an almost clinical degree of vocal and dramatic acuity. All four principals were at their best in the final scene, delivering unbridled, truly great Verdi singing that defines opera at its most thrilling and visceral.”
— Chicago Classical Review

Lyric Opera of Chicago is receiving critical acclaim for the stellar cast of Il trovatore, featuring mezzo Jamie Barton as Azucena and tenor Russell Thomas as her adopted son, Manrico. Conducted by Marco Armiliato, the production by Sir David McVicar plays through December 9 at the Civic Opera House; tickets can be purchased via the Lyric.

Read reviews:

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“Barton brought both musical and dramatic depth to her reading of Azucena. Most striking here was Barton’s low register, a throaty, guttural timbre reflecting the darkness of her deeds. In Barton’s nuanced performance, Azucena emerged a cursed but somewhat sympathetic villain. This “Trovatore” hinged on Wilson’s and Barton’s imposing vocals, which will be remembered long after the rest is forgotten.”

Chicago Tribune

“Pride of place must go to the sensational mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton in the role of Azucena. In her opening number "Stride la vampa," Barton was remarkable in how she captured her character's emotional volatility. From stridency, to trauma, to guilt, to fury, Barton's performance was a masterclass in affective singing-acting. You could have closed your eyes and known exactly what this character was going through.”

Schmopera

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“Barton delivers powerful, show-stopping singing as Azucena, capturing the variously crazed, forlorn facets of this conflicted character…”
Chicago Sun-Times

“American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is a stunning Azucena. She has a coffee-rich darkness to her voice, and her storytelling ability is tremendous. Azucena in the wrong hands can appear to be a silly or demented old woman, but Barton imbues the character with ominous power.”

Hyde Park Herald

“Jamie Barton is one of the world’s great mezzo-sopranos and her Azucena was masterful. Her powerful voice complemented perhaps the best dramatic skills among the principals. Her Azucena was less fanatical and more a woman who has been severely damaged... Her fiery showpiece “Stride la vampa” was one of the highlights of the matinee.“

–Opera Wire

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“Barton is pitch perfect as the gypsy Azucena…providing inspiring vocal thrills throughout.”

–Chicago Now

“Barton’s performances as Azucena holds back nothing. The height of her voice is matched by the anguish on her face and in her body.“
Around The Town Chicago

“Speaking of sublime, how can we start to describe the perfect storm of vocalism which was created by an ensemble of some of the greatest Verdi voices of our age? Every singer was ideally cast in these difficult roles. Azucena…is often played with hair-raising intensity, bordering on the grotesque. Jamie Barton was a more sympathetic character and sang the role more beautifully, not in small part due to the pathos inherent in her warm full mezzo soprano. Still chilling, yes, but believable.”

Buzz Center Stage

“At the center of the Trovatore story is Azucena, sung here by Jamie Barton, an impressive 37-year-old with a voice of steadfast strength and only a few Azucenas under her belt, although there are doubtless many more in the offing. Azucena’s early scene at the gypsy camp is a tour de force; Manrico listens as she relives her horror at the crowd’s delight in her mother’s immolation, then dissolves into viscerally thrilling madness... There is realism in Barton’s insightful reading of this self-made human horror.”

–Chicago on the Aisle

“Lyric provided the finest, best matched group of lead singers that I can imagine singing today. Jamie Barton certainly laid claim to being the Azucena of her generation. The voice has bloomed and become more powerful, and last night she deployed a lower register that I hadn’t heard from her before. She sang and acted with beauty and skill, and the contrast between her lust for vengeance for her mother’s death and her maternal protectiveness toward Manrico has never been clearer. Her “Stride la vampa” in Act Two was a model of dramatic vocalism, yet she was able to sing softly and ravishingly in Act Four’s “Ai nostri monti” when the imprisoned Azucena longs for her previous life in the mountains. And her rendition of the opera’s final line “Sei vendicata, o Madre!” was chilling and raise goose bumps on this reviewer.”

–Parterre Box

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“The fervency and emotional commitment of Thomas’s interpretation proved fiercely effective… The ardor he expressed for Leonora in “Ah si, ben mio, coll’essere” and the heat he generated in the vocally daunting “Di quella pira” underscored the stature of his work. Here was a tenor who didn’t so much act the role of the doomed lover Manrico as inhabit it.”

Chicago Tribune

“Tenor Russell Thomas delivers an impassioned, technically secure turn in the title role of Manrico. He really comes on in the second half, especially in his Act 3 vow of devotion to Leonora, ‘Ah! si, ben mio.’”
–Chicago Sun-Times

“Lyric gives us the powerhouse Russell Thomas… His soaring, full-throated tenor is outstanding…”

–Stage and Cinema

“Russel Thomas gets his well-deserved first starring role at the Lyric as Manrico, and his tenor is warm and sweet. During his battle cry to save Azucena, “Di quella pira,” his presiding emotion is love, and the one time we hear him performing as the titular troubadour, his voice is mysterious and alluring.”

–Around The Town Chicago

“The title role of Manrico (the troubadour) is in solid hands with American tenor Russell Thomas [who] has the bearing of both a lover and a fighter…”

–Hyde Park Herald

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg


“Thomas delivered an incredible performance as Manrico, imbibing every tone with courage and heroism to instill a deep sense of empathy in audiences.”

Loyola Phoenix

“Thomas was an imposing Manrico. He conveyed the depths of his emotions with a tender “Ah si! Ben mio” while his fiery “Di quella pira” was in stark contrast with determined intensity.”

–Opera Wire

“There’s no denying that Russell is a brilliant tenor with star power and a stage presence to match. Especially gripping was his Act III aria-cabaletta ‘Ah, si ben mio…di quella pira.’”

–Schmopera

“Speaking of sublime, how can we start to describe the perfect storm of vocalism which was created by an ensemble of some of the greatest Verdi voices of our age? Every singer was ideally cast in these difficult roles. Tenor Russell Thomas was well up to the daunting task of the Troubador, Manrico. His clarion tenor, so powerful at full voice, was tenderly sympathetic in the softer moments, when his color became more burnished. Manricos’ aria, “Ah, si, ben mio”, was lyrical, idiomatic and meltingly lovely.”

Buzz Center Stage

“As star-crossed lovers, tenor Russell Thomas and soprano Tamara Wilson become sadder and wiser quickly, but not without singing gloriously about it. Thomas’ “Di quella pira” was the stratospheric show-stopper one always hopes for.”

Chicago on the Aisle

 Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

“Lyric provided the finest, best matched group of lead singers that I can imagine singing today. Tenor Russell Thomas was a heroic Manrico, bringing stentorian power throughout. He had all the tools for a successful Manrico in his pocket, singing with a stunning intensity. He provided a stirring “Di quella pira”… a thrilling musical moment.”

Parterre Box

“As Manrico, Russell Thomas clearly possesses the Verdian bona fides for this heroic protagonist. The tenor was able to sustain a strenuous vocal intensity to handle the demands of this voice-shredding role. “Di quella pira” was the rousing showstopper it was meant to be for once, Thomas singing every note and nailing the top C. Yet he also showed a graceful lyricism in “Ah, si, ben mio” and the duetted scenes with Leonora…”

Chicago Classical Review